How Ironman learnt to swim


Hanson Singaphi learnt to swim five months before finishing the Ironman. That’s unthinkable. Less than a year before finishing one of the toughest multi-sport challenges in the world, the man couldn’t perform one-third of the race. Despite being in charge of pool maintenance at his local gym, Singaphi never had the chance to learn in the water. He watched others come in every day to keep fit while he carried out his duties in the pool. His life changed the day he saw an Ironman race director training athletes.

Already an experienced runner who had never shied away from athletics and cross country in school, Singaphi decided to challenge himself. “Something went into my heart and I told myself, ‘I want to be an Ironman one day’,” he says. Under the guidance of race director Paul Wolff, Singaphi began learning to swim in November 2004. “It all started from there,” he says. Five months and many lessons later, Singaphi not only swam in open water, he completed his first triathlon. “Ironman is the most challenging competition out there,” Singaphi says. But the new swimmer took the 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre cycle and 42-kilometre run in his stride.

In the 13 years since, Singaphi has competed at numerous South African Duathlon and Triathlon Championships, represented the country at the 2007 World Duathlon Champs in Hungary, and earned Eastern Cape provincial colours. He’s also gone on to compete in nine Half Ironman events and nine full Ironman events, one of which was the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii last year. It’s a grueling challenge for an experienced athlete, but for Singaphi who grew up in Walmer Township, Ironman is so much more than a test of strength. “In my community, I’m more like a local hero,” he says. “They admire what I’m doing.” The athlete believes success rests on the willpower to make the most of what you have and push yourself beyond your circumstances. “I hope that by doing something different, I can inspire my community and anyone else out there who feels hopeless,” Singaphi says.